At end, Dungy became a victim of his strengths
© St. Petersburg Times
Wonderful thing, loyalty. At its best, it is a word of faith, of commitment, of honor. In times of turmoil, it gives a body direction, foundation, identity.
Beautiful concept, trust. At its finest, it is a bond, a promise, a shield against outsiders. It allows people to endure when life in the foxhole becomes frantic.
Rare quality, patience. When properly applied, it enables someone to ride out his daily problems. It is a weapon against the knee-jerk, microwave mentality that drives so many others.
Oh, what a sad thing it is when a man's admirable qualities turn on him.
Just ask Tony Dungy, who has been done in by his own virtues.
Dungy, fired Monday night as coach of the Bucs, will be remembered for a lot of things around here. He gave Tampa Bay more good Sundays than anyone, and he did it with uncommon class.
Dungy is a wonderful guy. Even his worst critics acknowledge that. He is bright and patient and hard-working, calm and honest and honorable. Most of us could use a large dose of Dungy's personality traits.
But as he walks away, there is this lingering thought, too.
He was loyal to a fault, and it caught up to him. He believed in the wrong assistants, and it cost him. He trusted the players who worked for him to respond like men, and they acted like children.
Eventually, misguided loyalty turns into stubbornness. Misplaced trust becomes denial. Extended patience turns into a blind eye.
In the end, this was the undoing of Dungy. Even now, I struggle to understand why, with his career in the balance, with a lot of careers in the balance, he would not make the changes on offense that it cried out for from the first day of his tenure until the last. His team was lost, yet Dungy would not hire a guide.
It doesn't make any sense. Around the league, people looked at the Bucs and shook their heads. Good defense, they would say. Then again, it had better be. Because they aren't going to score. Ever. Ask yourself this: If Dungy were back next season, do you think the offense would be better?
There is an old saying. Half of wisdom is knowing where to find it. That was Dungy's trouble. One NFL general manager once said of Dungy and offense: "He doesn't know, and he doesn't know who does."
Most NFL coaches would have found out. Most want to succeed so badly they would shove a bad assistant from a moving car. They would have ejected these assistants, one at a time, until the offense was in the hands of someone with direction. And no one would have blamed them.
Not Dungy. He remained loyal to Chris Foerster, to Charlie Williams, to Tony Nathan, to Clyde Christensen. Others in the front office would suggest he make changes, would plead with him to make changes, and Dungy would dig in his heels.
Just wondering: How many of those guys do you think he will take to his next team?
Yes, it can be difficult to judge an assistant coach. Most work behind the scenes, tinkering and studying. But someone smarter than I once suggested a couple of ways to separate the good ones from the bad.
First, do the players play up to the grades they were given when they were drafted? Oh, eventually, there will be a bust, and every now and then there will be an overachiever. But overall, the No. 1 picks need to play like it. Has that happened? What about the wide receivers, Reidel Anthony and Jacquez Green? What about Kenyatta Walker and Jerry Wunsch?
Second, every now and then, you have to develop a guy from nowhere. Where have the Bucs done that? Oh, on defense, the Bucs developed John Lynch and Ronde Barber and Marcus Jones and several others.
But on offense, the best players all came from somewhere else, like Keyshawn Johnson, or they were as good as rookies as they are now, like Mike Alstott. Players don't grow here. They don't blossom.
Despite it all, Dungy remained steadfast. These were his guys. Loyalty. Trust. Patience.
Explain this to me: In a league in which everyone is a professional, why is an underachieving coach different from an underachieving player? If an offensive tackle isn't doing the job, no one thinks twice about firing him. But if the line coach isn't, it's considered a betrayal to make a change. Where is the logic in that?
Ask any head coach in the league. He will tell you he is no better than his assistants. A team has to have them. In particular, he needs a special coach in charge of his offensive line and his secondary.
Over the next few weeks, a lot of people are going to discuss who cost Dungy his job. Was it the Glazers, who went behind his back in search of a coach before the season was over? Certainly, there was something fishy in the landing of the Tuna. Was it the players?
Or, in a strange twist that tells you very much about the NFL, did the same qualities that made Dungy such a terrific guy hurt him in his attempts to be an NFL coach? Was he too loyal, too trusting, too patient with an offensive coaching staff that did not deserve it?
Remember, it was the crew of the Titanic that hit the iceberg.
It was the captain -- loyal, trustworthy, patient guy that he was -- who went down with the ship.
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